New Mexico United back to The Lab, for now - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico United back to The Lab, for now

Fans cheer for the New Mexico United during a game on Sept. 9, 2019. NMU said it self-imposed a 75% capacity limit (9,250) fans for much of the 2021 season. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Back to the Lab for the short term, back to the drawing board for a permanent home.

That’s New Mexico United’s current outlook in the wake of Albuquerque voters rejecting a bond issue last month designed to fund a downtown stadium for the USL Championship soccer franchise.

United owner/CEO Peter Trevisani said the club still intends to construct a soccer-specific stadium in the Albuquerque area and has no plans to relocate. “We’re not going anywhere,” he said.

For the time being, however, NMU is working to extend its stadium-sharing arrangement at Isotopes Park – aka the Lab.

United’s three-year sublease to play home matches at the city-owned baseball park expired after the 2021 season. The Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes are that facility’s primary tenant, and Trevisani said discussions with Isotopes president Ken Young about extending the sublease are underway.

“Ken and (Isotopes general manager John Traub) have been great partners and we’ve had great talks,” Trevisani said in a recent interview. “We’re confident we’ll have a place to play next year and beyond.”

Trevisani’s confidence is evidenced by the fact United recently began selling season tickets for the 2022 season. NMU’s director of communications, David Carl, said early sales have been brisk.

Negotiating a return to Isotopes Park was always going to be part of the club’s agenda for next season. A new stadium would not have been ready even if the recent bond issue had passed.

Still, Isotopes Park cannot serve as a permanent home for New Mexico United. The USL Championship has set 2026 – the year the World Cup comes to the United States – as a target for having all of its clubs as primary tenants in soccer-specific stadiums.

Will McClaran, director of strategic communications for the USL Championship, said the league expects to meet its 2026 goal. Louisville, Colorado Springs and Phoenix have opened new stadiums over the past two seasons and Oklahoma City voters recently approved a civic project that includes a new venue for that city’s USLC franchise (which goes on hiatus in 2022, because the stadium it used in 2021 will be under renovation and unavailable).

McClaran said the league is working with United to explore stadium alternatives.

“Every market and project are different, but the (USL Championship’s) goal remains the same — to be a top 10 league in the world — and our clubs need to be a primary tenant in a soccer-specific stadium in order to achieve that,” McClaran said in an email to the Journal. ” … As a league, we are on track to accomplish this, and are confident that New Mexico United, with one of the largest and most passionate fan bases in the country, will realize their goal of a soccer-specific stadium as well.”

New Mexico United’s Kalen Ryden, left, shows his love for the crowd as he celebrates with Juan Pablo Guzman after a goal against Charleston on July 12 at Isotopes Park. (Mike Sandoval for the Journal)

New Mexico United ranked second to Louisville in home attendance last season, averaging an announced 7,727 fans per match despite no season ticket sales and pandemic-related restrictions. United said it self-imposed a 75% capacity limit (9,250 fans) for much of the 2021 campaign.

McClaran stopped short of saying that clubs not settled as primary tenants in soccer-specific stadiums by 2026 will be required to relocate, but he made the USLC’s expectations clear.

“In the event this can’t be achieved, clubs have to make tough decisions that are in their best interests to have long-term success,” McClaran said, “and that can include evaluating relocation options.”

Trevisani estimates stadium planning and construction to be a three- to five-year project and said he is weighing numerous options. Relocation is not among them.

Trevisani mentioned several sites for a potential stadium project, including Albuquerque’s West Side and the Mesa del Sol area, where United has locker room and practice facilities. Trevisani said local casinos have also expressed interest in a potential partnership, but he said those discussions are preliminary. He declined to name the casinos.

Primary considerations for any stadium site include available parking, which was one of the objections raised by downtown corridor residents opposed to the recent bond issue. United has not ruled out a downtown stadium, Trevisani said, but the club is not pursuing any of the four sites recommended by a recent feasibility study.

“Ideally, we want a place where there’s lots of parking and we can have mostly weekend games,” Trevisani said. “A lot of people can’t come to midweek games, so we’d like to build somewhere that we won’t have conflicts with weekend concerts or other events.”

Trevisani said United hopes to build a stadium that will seat 10- to-12,000 fans. USL Championship standards require a 5,000-seat minimum.

As for financing, Trevisani still envisions some level of private-public partnership but nothing along the lines of the $50 million bond project voters turned down. That proposal would have funded a facility similar to Isotopes Park, a city-owned stadium leased to the Isotopes since 2003.

Prior to November’s election, United’s ownership group pledged $10 million for additional construction costs and committed to paying $22.5 million in rent and concessions over a 25-year lease if the bond project was approved. Trevisani said United’s ownership group remains willing to invest heavily, but he said a specific dollar figure has not been determined.

“The city had a plan that mimicked Isotopes Park and we got behind it,” Trevisani said. “The voters didn’t feel a city-owned stadium made sense and we respect their decision. But we also made a commitment to spend $32.5 million for a stadium we wouldn’t have owned. I think that’s a huge commitment, and we’re still willing to put a lot in going forward.”

Trevisani also has promoted bringing a women’s professional soccer team to Albuquerque, but “with the logistics at Isotopes Park, that’s not possible right now,” he said.

“Once we have a stadium plan in place, it becomes possible, so we’re not giving up. If we’d quit the first time we heard no, we’d never have launched New Mexico United. We’re committed and we’ll keep learning as we go.”

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